Friday 29 July 2022

Theatre review: 101 Dalmatians

Both the shows I saw this week shared a common theme of me not having any intention whatsoever of booking for them, until the casting made them a lot harder to skip. Chasing Hares did prove to be worth catching, but I'm afraid I can't say the same for 101 Dalmatians: The big attraction here was Kate Fleetwood landing the iconic role of Cruella de Vil; but if you essentially hobble her from the start with woeful dialogue and a half-hearted reimagining, there's not much she can do to salvage the evening. Timothy Sheader's production for the Open Air Theatre goes back to the original Dodie Smith book for inspiration, while Douglas Hodge (music and lyrics) and Johnny McKnight's (book) musical is adapted from an earlier stage version by Zinnie Harris. Or to put it another way, this is nothing to do with the DisneyTM versions, that shit's way too expensive to license.

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Theatre review: Chasing Hares

The Cut is a street absolutely packed with restaurants, and on a much more comfortable summer night after a heatwave that means it's bustling when the Young Vic lets out for an interval at 8:40pm. Not just with people eating out - tonight there was a positive Tour de France of Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat delivery riders trying not to crash into each other. It's like a free bit of scene-setting atmosphere for Sonali Bhattacharyya's Chasing Hares, whose framing device sees present-day London food delivery rider Amba (Saroja-Lily Ratnavel) frustrated by the app she works for, which requires her to stay on standby, unpaid, in the hope that an order will come in; as well as needing the money herself, she wants to chip in to help a colleague who's had his bike stolen. This sense of community among riders who in theory should be competing for orders is one her father would like to see harnessed to get them better pay and conditions.

Thursday 21 July 2022

Theatre review: The Seagull

Jamie Lloyd's latest West End season was meant to run at the Playhouse, where its first show, Cyrano de Bergerac, played in early 2020. The follow-up production of Chekhov's The Seagull was of course a casualty of Covid, and now that it's returned its original home has been taken over by the Kit Kat Club. So instead Lloyd has regrouped at the Pinter, home of his previous season, for a production that continues to go for the same stripped-back aesthetic, but with a very different result than Cyrano's rap battle fireworks. Lloyd uses Anya Reiss' 2012 version of the play, which means the setting is the Isle of Man in the present day, where frustrated young writer Konstantin (Daniel Monks) lives at his uncle Sorin's (Robert Glenister) house by a lake. If their lives are usually quiet and uneventful that's not what we see, because all four of the play's acts take place during visits from Sorin's sister, Konstantin's mother.

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Theatre review: Jack Absolute Flies Again

For many of us One Man, Two Guvnors is now remembered as the show that stopped us from ever trusting a theatrical ad-lib again, but there's no denying what a huge international hit Richard Bean's rewrite of Carlo Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters was. So it's not surprising if the National Theatre have tried to recreate the alchemy as Bean, now with one of the original Masters, Oliver Chris, on board as co-writer, takes another 18th century comedy and transposes it to more recent history. This time the source material is perhaps the most enduring Restoration Comedy, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals, and while it remains to be seen if its financial success can match its predecessor, Jack Absolute Flies Again is certainly a hit in terms of providing laughs when they're most needed. From a flippant world of fops and wigs the scene moves to men and women in a higher-stakes setting, during the aerial Battle of Britain in 1940.

Friday 15 July 2022

Theatre review: Julius Caesar
(Shakespeare's Globe & Tour)

Straight after a play about a tyrant going unnoticed until it's too late and he's grabbed all the power, I'm off to Shakespeare's play about a potential tyrant who's disposed of before he can do any damage; although whether the threat was ever real is the big question in Julius Caesar. It's this year's Tiny Tour show from the Globe, with eight actors taking on all the roles (and some extra economising in that there's no additional onstage musicians this year.) Diane Page directs Globe veteran Dickon Tyrrell in the plum part that gives an actor the title role, a dramatic death scene, and plenty of time to nap backstage. Caesar has just defeated Rome's previous hero-turned-villain, Pompey, in battle at the start of the play, and the city has shown its gratitude by offering him the crown. He's grudgingly accepted, but was his initial refusal the gentleman protesting too much? Cassius (Charlotte Bate) thinks so.

Thursday 14 July 2022

Theatre review: Patriots

I wonder what first attracted noted Arsenal fan Rupert Goold to a play that sticks it to Roman Abramovich? Or perhaps, after The 47th, he wanted to keep to a theme of uncannily accurate portrayals of recent or current world despots - this time Will Keen's disturbingly accurate Vladimir Putin. Both Abramovich and Putin are major characters in the director's latest project at the Almeida, but the central figure in Peter Morgan's Patriots is the man who first brought the two together, arguably the OG Russian oligarch, Boris Berezovsky (Tom Hollander.) A child prodigy with ambitions of winning the Nobel Prize for Mathematics*, in the late 1980s he took an abrupt turn, spotting the pitfalls and possibilities of Perestroika and turning his maths skills to economics. Soon he's one of the richest men in Russia, and with his wealth comes power.

Tuesday 12 July 2022

Theatre review: A Doll's House, Part 2

Previously, in A Doll's House...

In an unpredictable year for theatregoing the Donald and Margot Warehouse has proven the most disaster-prone for me personally: We're now up to two shows I had to reschedule because the company had Covid; one I had to miss entirely because I had Covid; and one that had Kit Harington in it. Now, a couple of weeks after I'd initially planned to, I'm getting to see a show that follows a major pre-lockdown trend of plays that rewrote, reinvented or deconstructed Ibsen's proto-feminist classic A Doll's House, a play that famously caused an international scandal when its heroine, Nora, walked out of the door at the end. The title of Lucas Hnath's take on the story, A Doll's House, Part 2, gives away that his approach is to write a sequel: 15 years after she dealt with an unhappy marriage by walking out on her husband and children, Nora Helmer is back.

Saturday 9 July 2022

Theatre review: Richard III (RSC / RST)

I don't think it's a question of if, or even when someone does an overtly Boris Johnson-themed production of Richard III, it's surely only a matter of who gets there first: In Shakespeare's version of history, Richard sees ultimate power as his birthright; sows chaos then sells himself as the only person who can fix it; acquires and discards wives for political expediency; makes allies of dodgy yes-men; goes so far even they desert him and he replaces them with even dodgier ones; and of course immediately finds himself dangerously out of his depth when he eventually gets the top job. It's a bit #TooSoon for that very specific production of course, so in the meantime we get the culmination of the RSC's Wars of the Roses trilogy. Designer Stephen Brimson Lewis stays on as do many of the central cast, but outgoing Artistic Director Gregory Doran has returned from compassionate leave to take over directing duties from Owen Horsley.

Thursday 7 July 2022

Theatre review: The Southbury Child

Continuing an unprecedented run of two whole not-terrible original plays at the Bridge Theatre, Stephen Beresford's The Southbury Child comes to London after premiering in Chichester. Nicholas Hytner directs regular collaborator Alex Jennings for the first time at his own venue, as vicar David Highland, who's served the parish of a small Devon town for so many years his whole family call it home. At one point the town was a fishing and industrial community, but is now starkly divided on economic lines - the scenic riverside houses are second homes for the wealthy, while in the more derelict parts of town the locals scrape by at call centres, as cleaners or on benefits. David holds a position somewhere between the two classes, who do have one thing in common: Most of them never go anywhere near his church except for christenings, weddings and funerals.

Tuesday 5 July 2022

Theatre review: The Lesson

For a lauded and influential playwright, Eugène Ionesco is so rarely performed in the UK that me catching a second production in 2022 means it must be a bit of a big year for him in London. In Southwark Playhouse's Little space, Icarus Theatre brings The Lesson to life with the creative use of projections that turn captions for the hearing-impaired into the stuff of nightmares. The Pupil (Hazel Caulfield) arrives, excited, at the apartment of the famed Professor (Jerome Ngonadi,) who she hopes will help her prepare for a Doctorate (preferably all the Doctorates.) She already knows three of the four seasons so this should just be a formality. The Professor starts her on arithmetic before moving on to linguistics, despite the warnings of his stern housekeeper Marie (Julie Stark) that this never goes well for him.

Sunday 3 July 2022

Theatre review: King Lear (Shakespeare's Globe)

Female King Lears have become a bit more common in recent years, but Kathryn Hunter's 1997 performance of the role is generally referred to as the first-ever professional production with a woman in the lead. Presumably it was also remarkable for her age, as she would have been younger then than I am now, and much as I grumble about getting on a bit I'm not quite at the point of identifying with the dementia-stricken monarch just yet. This was long before I'd ever even heard of Hunter, now one of my favourite actors, so I was excited to have a chance to finally see her in the role, 25 years closer to the character's supposed age, at Shakespeare's Globe. But it's turned out to be a troubled production: Hunter was meant to reunite onstage for the second time this year with her husband Marcello Magni, but he had to drop out so we get a much younger Kent, with an appealing amount of swagger, in Gabriel Akuwudike.